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Australian police just seized the country's largest fentanyl shipment — and it came from Vancouver

"The audacity of the group behind this is just… outrageous. I'd describe it as a total act of bastardry," says an Australian Border Force Commander.
Officers wore biohazard suits to protect themselves from drug exposure.

Australian police have pinpointed Vancouver as the source of 11 kilograms of pure powdered fentanyl and 30 kilograms of methamphetamine in the country’s largest drug-shipment seizure.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) said Aug. 22 about 27 kg of the powder contained fentanyl, yielding 11.2 kg of pure fentanyl. That's equivalent to about 5.5 million potentially lethal 30 mg doses.

Forensic officers also removed about 30 kg of methamphetamine with an estimated street value of $27 million Australian dollars ($24.2 million Canadian)

The bust came after a joint operation with the Australian Border Force (ABF).

“We were absolutely shocked by the size of the detection and the audacity of this attempted importation,” said James Watson, ABF Commander Maritime and Enforcement South, in a statement.

“This is a massive amount of fentanyl ... which undoubtedly saved many, many lives,” Watson said. “The audacity of the group behind this is just… outrageous. I’d describe it as a total act of bastardry.”

The drugs were hidden inside in an industrial wooden lathe shipped from Vancouver, arriving at the Port of Melbourne in December 2021.

The lathe was X-rayed and inorganic material was seen where it should not have been, police said.

In B.C., the highly toxic drug is the spearhead of an opioid crisis that has killed more than 10,000 people in the past six years.

“Fentanyl is an extremely toxic substance to handle as well as being a lethal drug to use. There is a fentanyl epidemic in many parts of the world today, resulting in thousands of deaths of users every year,” Watson said.

Australian authorities have only ever detected illicit fentanyl importations in minor amounts — all less than 30 grams — with the first case in 2017.

The investigation into the importation began after ABF officers began inspecting the container at a Melbourne inspection facility in February. The officers detected nearly 60 kilograms of powdered substances hidden inside military-style ammunition boxes concealed within a three-tonne lathe.

Forensic officers initiated a two-week operation to safely remove and analyze the powder. To protect themselves, officers wore biohazard suits when removing the drugs.

“Drug extraction can always pose a risk... we had multiple ambulances on standby. Even in this highly controlled environment, there was a risk to our members' safety,” said AFP acting Commander Anthony Hall.

Hall said global criminal syndicates are lacing illicit drugs such as heroin with the synthetic opioid, creating a dangerous cocktail of substances.  

“People who use illicit drugs can never be certain what they are ingesting and this seizure highlights the potentially lethal game of Russian roulette they play. We don't want to see Australia joining other countries in that deadly game,” he said.

As the world becomes more interconnected, organized crime groups continue to expand internationally, seeking more direct access to lucrative foreign and criminal markets, the police said.

Canadian police involvement

RCMP headquarters spokesperson Sgt. Caroline Duval said the force does not comment on investigations conducted by other countries.

But, she added, a significant portion of the RCMP’s federal policing investigations are focused on transnational and serious organized crime networks that traffic multiple commodities, within Canada and internationally.

Duval said the force cooperates with partners provincial and nationally to ensure a coordinated response to reduce the flow of illicit drugs within and outside of Canada.

Further, she explained, the RCMP engages in intelligence sharing with other countries, including those in the Five Eyes network comprised of Canada, the U.S., the U.K., New Zealand and Australia.

"As such, the RCMP remains open to working with domestic and foreign partners to investigate and disrupt the illegal trafficking of fentanyl," Duval said.